Tom Kelly welcomes Sinn Fein’s leadership’s promise to back policing. But notes the subterranean manoeuvrings over the last few years to bring it about. By Tom Kelly
If Santa did not leave you what you wanted for Christmas then perhaps you could resolve to get it for yourself in the New Year. Santa did not bring devolution but nor did he bring sack-cloth and ashes for the bad boys and girls in Sinn Fein and the DUP. However Sinn Fein’s political choreography continues to amaze observers. The long-awaited ard fheis will be called sometime this month.
It should, if Adams has done his homework, make Sinn Fein an embryonic if not bona fide paid-up member of civic society, supporting the police, the rule of law and the judgment of the courts. While this move is long overdue it should be welcomed.
Peter Hain is right when he says that there can be no longer any political cover for the DUP if it doesn’t move to seal its imminent marriage to Sinn Fein. Of course that depends on Sinn Fein delivering the correct result.
Yet with one eye on elections in the Republic, Sinn Fein knows that the party is on weak electoral ground on law and order issues. Ever the consummate political machine, a diet full of life-long principles can be swallowed without even a gulp – as power is the all-important Marxist goal. Who can blame them?
Why shouldn’t their noses be stuck in the ‘political trough’?
Of course there are those who will never forgo the cause of militant republicanism. Pragmatism to these people meant that in a war casualties happen and who cares if they were people going to work; taking their children to school or simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Perhaps even worse militant pragmatism meant you might even have died by being the wrong person.
These warm-hearted individuals once stood shoulder to shoulder with the leadership of Sinn Fein – they knocked on our doors; threatened the political opposition; canvassed for votes; turned on and off recreational violence as required and of course were useful cannon fodder for the frequent solidarity protests against ‘political’ policing.
More than likely these sons and indeed daughters of Erin served time and got prime position at Easter commemoration parades – but all of that is at an end as clean sheet ‘Johnny/Jane-come-latelies’ swap places with the faces that don’t fit with the Sinn Fein electoral strategy of 2007.
To the diehards it was all a ruse; Sinn Fein was a political chameleon playing the British government, the government in the Republic and the SDLP at their own game. The IRA had not gone away as Gerry reminded them and the twin-track approach of ballot box by day and Armalite under the bed still prevailed.
Of course, day-by-day P O’Neill was subtly changing the rules by fax. The privatisation process of the Provisional movement was well under way. The arms were being rented out for personal criminal pursuits or sold back into the international arms market; while the gardai and the PSNI were busy digging up Co Roscommon and Co Tyrone potato fields for the leftovers.
Statues to the fallen went up all over the country; the Hunger Strikers were eulogised with graveside oration after oration and active service medals were given out to the old Brigade. Flying columns were disbanded and replaced with column writers by the legion. The twin-track has been a single-gauge line for a long time.
Gerry says he wants those who oppose him to come forward and talk to him about their concerns. That’s a nice thought. Unfortunately, in case Gerry has forgotten, those who have concerns don’t really go in for talking – they are more the strong silent types.
Sinn Fein does deserve credit for moving on – albeit late; however the manner by which the party is moving has two consequences. On the one hand it has created a disaffected and dissident rump and on the other it has given the DUP a veto on the nature and timing of political progress in the north.
Sinn Fein know that the ‘rump’ it is leaving behind is likely to be as ineffective as those who ran the 1950s IRA campaign – in fact some of them are the same people.
It is clear that 2007 should be the year for political movement. If there is not the will to commit to devolution and if plan B exists then it should be implemented. The new year is about resolve – so let us hope everyone’s political resolve lasts longer than my annual commitment to go to the gym.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty